Emilia, A Heroine of Shakespeare's Othello Essay

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Emilia, A Heroine of Shakespeare's Othello

Shakespeare, in his tragedy Othello, presents a minor character who does great things in the final act. Her character is deserving of analysis.

Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the motivation of Emilia through most of the play:

Emilia’s character, too, is determined by the plot. In the source, the villain’s wife is privy to the nefarious designs. Shakespeare wisely makes her, like the other characters, ignorant of Iago’s character. She knows that she has lost his love, and her unhappy marriage drives her to cynicism about sex; but she tries to win back her husband’s affections by carrying out his wishes, even when this involves betrayal
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She shows herself mentally unfit to fight off the verbal attacks of Iago, which are demeaning to her: “her tongue she oft bestows on me”; “chides with thinking”; “Bells in your parlors, wildcats in your kitchen / Saints in your injuries, devils being offended.” So Desdemona intervenes on Emilia’s behalf with: “O, fie upon thee, slanderer!” directed to Iago. She continues to critique the ancient’s answers to her questions: “These are old fond paradoxes to make fools laugh i' the alehouse” and “O heavy ignorance! thou praisest the worst best.” Desdemona is Emilia’s protectress against her husband.

Unfortunately, later Emilia is manipulated by her husband. Iago, in planning his strategy following the dismissal of Cassio, says, “My wife must move for Cassio to her mistress; I’ll set her on”; and she shortly thereafter gives the lieutenant access to Desdemona: “I will bestow you where you shall have time / To speak your bosom freely.” Emilia is sheepish at times: She announces to Desdemona, who is with Cassio, “Madam, here comes my lord,” referring to the Moor. Emilia functions basically as a servant to Desdemona and a dupe for Iago. She freely gives him the handkerchief which he has asked her to steal, knowing quite plainly that the loss would pain her mistress:

I am glad I have found this napkin;
This was her first remembrance from the Moor.
My wayward husband hath a hundred times
Wooed me to steal it; but she
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